Skip to main content

New imam joins Park 51 leadership, center says

By Allan Chernoff, CNN
  • Addition of Adhami would lessen role of of Iman Rauf, center says
  • But Rauf spokeswoman says, "Nothing has changed."
  • Critics have labeled the center "The Ground Zero Mosque"

New York (CNN) -- The controversial Islamic community center planned in Lower Manhattan announced the appointment of a senior religious adviser, Imam Abdallah Adhami, reflecting a reduced role in the project for Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who has generated tremendous controversy for the center that critics have labeled, "The Ground Zero Mosque."

"This is an extraordinary opportunity to be a key adviser on a project going forward that has enormous creative and healing potential for the collective good in New York City and in our nation," said Adhami, who has been serving the Lower Manhattan community for two decades and previously led a now defunct mosque in the neighborhood.

Rauf remains on the board of the Islamic community center, called "Park51." But the community center distanced itself from the Imam and his wife whose comments have sometimes conflicted with those of the project's other backers.

"Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan will not be speaking on behalf of Park51, nor will they be raising funds for the project," said the news release from the center. "The Cordoba Movement and the Cordoba Initiative are separate nonprofit entities from Park51 with different missions and leadership," added the statement, referring to Rauf's interfaith outreach.

But in an illustration of continuing tension between Park51 and Rauf his public relations representative, Leyla Turkkan, told CNN, "Nothing has changed. Everything remains the same in terms of the vision of Park51 and Imam Feisal's involvement in Park51 and Cordoba House at Park51."

A person involved in the project, who spoke off the record, not wanting to exacerbate the conflict, told CNN that in fact there will be no Cordoba House at Park51.

Park51 is planned as a 16-story community center with recreational, educational and cultural programming, modeled after the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side and the 92nd Street YMHA and open to all New Yorkers. The basement of the building would house an 8,000 square-foot Muslim prayer space, comprising just over 6% of the project.

Park51 plans to announce an executive director next week and other New York Imams plan to associate with the project in the near future.

"We are very excited about the next phase of Park51 and the challenging work ahead," said Sharif El-Gamal, a real estate developer and president of Park51.